In a night of lighthearted remarks and the occasional mistake, Schenectady’s new mayor and half of its City Council were sworn in Tuesday.
Administering the oath to Mayor Gary McCarthy was the simplest part of the process, but even he had a surprise up his sleeve. He challenged the city residents to talk up Schenectady’s best traits in a deliberate effort to bring in more homeowners.
“I believe it falls upon each of us,” he said.
Earlier Tuesday, he announced he would assign the fire and police command staff, along with other city workers, to attend weekend open houses and sell the city to prospective homeowners.
After taking the oath of office, he promised to work toward three goals: making the Police Department more proactive, cutting health care costs by $2 million a year and bringing in 150 new families every year.
“I will work to create a city where people want to live,” he said.
And then he handed the reins to the City Council, and the bloopers began. Judge Karen Drago accidentally promoted Councilwoman Denise Brucker to council president during her oath of office. Brucker had to correct her, and Drago got the crowd to laugh by saying, “I’ve got great aspirations for her!”
No one was fooled: It had been widely reported that Brucker would be elected council president. City politicians acknowledged that there was no other choice: of the four veterans on the council, Barbara Blanchard is in a wheelchair in uncertain health, Carl Erikson is expecting his second child this month and Margaret King, who was recently council president, won re-election by a whisker. Short of choosing one of the two new council members, Brucker was the only option.
And sure enough, she was unanimously elected a few minutes later. Blanchard noted that Brucker was the top vote-getter in the November election.
King added, “We’ve sort of done this rotation. I was just council president a couple years ago. I think she’ll be a good leader.”
Brucker good-naturedly told the new mayor that she sometimes cursed him for persuading her to run for office, saying he described it as “just” one meeting a week. However, she said, he also reminds her of why she wanted to be in office, to make a difference.
“Schenectady is on the rise,” she said. “I see a lot more input from residents. That certainly makes my job a lot easier.”
But not effortless. As she began running the meeting, she had to call her colleagues by their last names for the first time — and her brain froze. For a moment, she couldn’t recall Carl Erikson’s last name.
“Whew! You get up here and you see what happens?” she said with a laugh.
New Councilwoman Leesa Perazzo added her own touch to the normally staid oath of office — she had her mother administer the oath, but only after prompting the woman to say out loud what she had promised to her daughter. Shirley Perazzo solemnly said she wouldn’t cry, and then proceeded to read the oath for her daughter without a tear. Everyone cheered.
Perazzo, who had the second-highest number of votes, said the overwhelming support of the voters energized her.
“I promise to use my determination and energy to find solutions to benefit my beloved city,” she said. “So, let’s get started!”
Assemblyman James Tedisco read the oath for Vince Riggi, the only council member who isn’t a Democrat. Noting that Riggi’s a one-man minority, Tedisco told the crowd, “There has already been a vote. I’m proud to say I’ll be swearing in the minority leader.”
As the laughter began, he added, “It was close ... back and forth ... but he finally decided he should be minority leader.”
Riggi jokingly asked Brucker if he was allowed to speak for more than three minutes — the limit given to residents speaking on the other side of the rail. He has spoken from that side for years, but he vowed he would not change now that he’s become a politician.
He asked the council to support his campaign pledge for zero-tolerance of quality-of-life crimes and asked the public to push his colleagues to pass the measure.
“I want to clean this city up. It breaks my heart, some of these things I see,” he said. “We’re going to clean it up.”
The council will hold its first meeting of the year today at 5:30 p.m. in City Hall.